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I think it’s safe to say that developer Telltale’s The Walking Dead (released in episodes over the last year for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, PC, and iOS devices) has already embedded its legacy in video game history, and it’s quite apparent that many others would agree. This past November, the Spike Video Game Awards marked the title as Game of the Year.
It’s true. The Walking Dead really was an incredible experience, but why do we all remember it so fondly? I’d be willing to bet that the game’s story gripped players and compelled them to continue from start to finish. The narrative of The Walking Dead was indeed one of the most memorable and engaging stories told through a video game in this generation. It had realistic and relatable characters, it had emotions across the board, and it forced players to ponder their own methods of making decisions.
But if we were to analyze this game in the same manner as most other major releases, would it really measure up? What I’m trying to say is: If not for its story, The Walking Dead may not have been so successful.
Lacking in gameplay
While we can officially call The Walking Dead a video game, most of the 3-hour long, periodically released episodes involve conversing with characters and building relationships but, admittedly, not much else.
The game is a point-and click-adventure, but the periods of control over main character Lee’s movements and exploration are few and far between. While the game has us solving the occasional puzzle, none of them were really anything to write home about. It’s understood that many players enjoy point-and-click gameplay, but think about the way most critics reviewed The Walking Dead. Under the usual pretenses, a game is usually rated not only by its story but also by its presentation and gameplay. If The Walking Dead was reviewed according to these guidelines, the final verdict would be less than what most of us seem to conclude.
Now, whether or not these commonly used guidelines are appropriate (many believe that the system is broken), we can’t deny that this title would have failed in any other category aside from story.
The few instances of gameplay are lackluster in quality
To be more specific, we are occasionally treated to a sequence of first-person-styled shooting in The Walking Dead — one of the few occasions where the game presents us with what can really be classified as “gameplay.”
The problem is that these instances weren’t as successful as Telltale probably intended them to be. During these sequences, controls and movements where clunky and unstable, which didn’t facilitate one’s ability to act on instinct and hit one’s targets. There were, of course, a few select parts of the game where we were able to fight with melee weapons, which was a bit more successful but still boils down to simple point-and click-actions resulting in short cutscenes of Lee dispatching a zombie for us. Most of the time, critics chastise gameplay of this quality, but because this was not the main focal point of The Walking Dead, it reviewers politely brushed this off and presented the story as the primary aspect of the game.
Issues with presentation
Nearly every review of The Walking Dead drew attention to the title’s low frame rate as well as the awkward movement of the characters.
Critics commonly criticize issues such as these for breaking the player’s immersion within a game’s narrative as well as being sloppy overall. Again, while these problems came up on occasion, reviewers managed to ignore them almost the entire way through due to the emphasis on the story. Like I said before, any other major release (or any other game at all for that matter) would have suffered greatly due to such mishaps in presentation.
A final word
It would be hard to disagree with the majority that The Walking Dead was truly a great game, and I can’t disagree because I, along with most of the gaming community, absolutely loved playing it.
The title was one of the (if not the single) most enjoyable and compelling gaming experiences of 2012. Why is that? Because of the expertly executed story being the main focal point of the game. It’s because of that story that The Walking Dead was so successful and managed to pull so many players and critics alike over to its side. Still, we have to admit that if not for the story, The Walking Dead probably would not have been such a success since the actual game portion is not exactly on par with what most of us see as an exceptional experience.
But is that a bad thing? No, not really. In fact, it can be seen as a step forward for video games as a storytelling medium while at the same time proving how video games may be maturing (even if only slightly) and growing to become more than just virtual shooting galleries and interactive gentlemen’s clubs. All jokes aside; despite what the game might be lacking in the literal gameplay department, The Walking Dead is, without a doubt, deserving of every ounce of its praise.